AN INNOVATIVE new public transport trial for country patients with city medical appointments was jointly launched yesterday by the Parliamentary Secretary for Regional and Rural Development Damien Drum and the State Governor’s wife Jan de Kretser, who is Patron of Travellers Aid.
The new service will help patients from country areas to easily access specialist hospital and medical appointments in Melbourne city and inner suburbs.
Known as the Melbourne Medical Companion Project, the service entails a ‘Travellers Aid’ volunteer meeting patients at the Southern Cross coach/train terminals (or at Flinders Street Station if relevant) and accompanying them to and from their appointments.
The project seeks to support and encourage country people to choose public rail and bus transport to attend their medical appointments instead of using either private cars or the limited community medical transport resources.
“People are usually stressed enough about their illness or treatment without having to worry about finding their way around a strange city environment or having to find car parking etcetera,” commented South Gippsland Transport Connections Coordinator Fred Boreham.
“By using the new service, your volunteer would escort you to your relevant medical destination via the free tram/train or bus system or by taxi if you prefer a cab, though you would be expected to meet the cost of the ride.”
Thirteen regional Transport Connections projects (representing more than 20 Victorian municipalities) are sponsoring this new initiative and are working in partnership with the State Government.
They have contracted with Travellers Aid Australia to provide the ‘day to day’ coordination and training of volunteers and for provision of the service.
With some 10,000 Gippsland patients per year using Red Cross and HACC services to attend medical appointments in the city (and perhaps 50,000 rural trips statewide), plus an unknown number travelling by other means, the Transport Connections projects have identified the service as being clearly needed.
A Gippsland patient transport survey also revealed that there was very little coordination across the sector resulting in duplication of services with little incentive to share resources.
Additionally, many services were being stretched to the limits because of both growing demand and having to travel further afield.
In South Gippsland’s case, the five community cars and one Red Cross vehicle are all heavily used.
“Even if only 20% of locals use the new Medical Companion service to reach their city appointments, it would free up the local vehicles to do more trips closer to home and save pressure on relatives and friends to drive patients to the city,” Mr. Boreham anticipated.
He continued, “The Melbourne Medical Companion Project will be a free service throughout the nine month trial period, and if embraced by patients and volunteers, it is expected that the service will be ongoing with funding by government and/or sponsors.”
CONTACT THE SERVICE
People requiring a volunteer companion must telephone Travellers Aid Australia on 1300 700 399 (local call fee only) at least 24 hours prior to their expected travel date.
The Melbourne Medical Companion Project is supported through the Victorian Government’s Transport Connections Program, a cross government initiative to help communities work together to improve local transport.
For further information, contact South Gippsland Shire Council on 5662 9324.
At Southern Cross station, the Travellers Aid office and facilities, which include toilets/showers, a quiet, draft-free lounge area and baby change area, is located very close to the V/line coach arrival/departure spot.
The general Travellers Aid services are designed to assist people who are elderly, frail or unwell, disabled or travelling with babies/young children.